Wildfire by Garrett Leigh
September 8, 2022
Heart Eyes Press
Review by Kate H.
Wildfire is Garrett Leigh’s most recent contribution to In Vino Veritas series (an extension of the Vino & Veritas series), which in turn is just part of Sarina Bowen’s World of True North, all set in Vermont. Sounds complicated? The good thing is each book is intended to stand alone, multiple authors write independently for each series, and you can pretty much dip in wherever you want. But if you read more than one, you will notice overlapping characters and places, a strong sense of local identity, and the feeling that Vermont is a great place to go to figure things out, including love.
Leigh is always good at creating distinct characters, and the way that both Kai and Joss’s points of view are expressed so differently through their alternating first-person point of views is riveting. Kai has been living with PTSD for a little less than a year, and while he has methods of coping, he also has moments where he just can’t be alone. When Joss arrives at Vino & Veritas to create a dinner menu for the gay wine bar, Kai is sleeping on his friends’ couch most nights, unable to deal with the night by himself. Joss is a vibrant, chaotic British chef who lives a life so itinerant that no one expects him to stay for more than the summer. He has ADHD and non-verbal Tourette Syndrome, and his inner monologue is as witty as his dialogue – rife with self-admonishment, regret, confidence, redirection, and a “take me or leave me” attitude that turns out to reflect a little more deeply his feelings about relationships.
One of the things I like about the way Leigh represents disability in this novel is that it is neither inspiration nor competence porn. She shows the minute by minute and day by day – the up and down. Kai laments several times to himself that he should learn more about ADHD. He has briefly studied a website with a long list of varied symptoms. He wants to understand, to be able to read Joss better, but he must realize the answers aren’t in a flat web description. We begin like Kai, learning the diagnosis of the two MCs, but the engaging first-person narratives fill out whole lives, feelings, and fears.
In the novel, Kai begins believing he is straight. He owns a cabin but is living above a gay wine bar since his PTSD emerged. However, it is not until he and Joss become first roommates and then friends, that he begins to realize his attraction to Joss and realize that his sexuality might be unfinished business. Joss, who is used to moving from place to place, recognizes a connection with Kai that goes beyond simple attraction. In turn, Kai sees Joss as energy and sunshine:
“Joss has a face that was made for laughing. Maybe even a soul. He tips his head back, hair falling out of its knot and down his spine. It’s still wet from the shower, so it doesn’t catch the rays so much, but somehow I see every shade of gold.”
The gentleness with which Kai’s “experimentation” begins is swoonworthy and escalates as the weeks progress.
I so enjoyed this novel. The plotting was a little loose – the main questions are how will Kai deal with his sexuality and when will Joss leave? There was one major event near the end that felt predictable and overdetermined, but it doesn’t really detract from the whole. I loved these characters and the way they were together and I was dreading summer’s end by chapter 6.
CW: depression, ADHD, PTSD, suicidal ideation